I’ve noticed an interesting thing while watching Japanese TV with my wife. We like to watch certain variety shows together (which are very common in Japan, unlike American TV). And sometimes, they have foreign guests. Either Hollywood actors, or famous foreign celebrities in Japan. Anyhow, I noticed that the foreign guests seems to have exaggerated expressions compared to Japanese guests. For example, if they’re happy, they really show it, or if they lose a competition they look disappointed.
Here in America, you wouldn’t notice it, because everyone is doing the same thing, but if you take an American like that and put him on Japanese TV, his expressions seem really animated.
Of course, people are the same everywhere. They feel joy and disappointment the same, but how they express it depends on culture. As I wrote many years ago though, when you’re in public in Japan, you’re kind of expected to be a little more reserved. Otherwise, it looks like you’re trying to draw attention to yourself: me, me, me! Or it just looks a bit sloppy (lack of self-discipline).
Recently, when I visit Japan or interact with my wife’s friends, I try to remind myself to “play it cool”. The key is to not be a robot, but just play it cool. Tone it down a little. You don’t need to be a high-fiving white guy1 all the time. 😉
To be honest though, I forget this little advice all the time. It’s still a work in progress. 🙂
P.S. I’ve learned that this is true in Korean culture as well, but I can’t confirm this. Korea is also a Confucian culture, and so it’s helpful to remember to be polite, reserved and play it cool. At least in public. At home or when drinking with friends, people probably cut loose a lot more.
1 A Seattle comedy show I grew up with as a teenager. Very local, very Seattle.